A discovery in the family's attic sparked the curiosity of a young musician. Gina Gerbasio is pursuing the concert zither, an instrument once played by her great-grandmother, Elizabeth Grob. Now, with hard work and weekly lessons, she is making great progress. In this article, Dr. William F. Kolb provides an update on his aspiring student and details how the zither has found expression in a new generation.
This is a story which begins a long, long time ago, way back in the mid 1800’s. In fact, if one considers the family beginning, the story begins so long ago, that Gina’s suggestion that it begin like the fairy tales with “Once upon a time, there was a perfect girl…..” may be correct. This is a story that spans generations, crosses oceans, combines different cultures and languages. What ties this story together is music and that fascinating, little known musical instrument, the alpine zither.
Like millions of others, George and Teresa Grob left their native land and came to the United States in search of a better life. All they wanted was to be able to work hard, earn a living and raise their family. Having left their native Bavaria, they settled in Jersey City, NJ, where they opened a restaurant & tavern called George Grob’s Bayerische Bier-Halle. The food was good, so was the drink and the establishment was a success.
In 1883 their daughter, Elizabeth J. Grob, was born. No one can remember any more why Elizabeth chose to play the zither, but it is with that particular zither that the author of these lines becomes involved with the Grob family. It is believed that Elizabeth may have played at the family restaurant and the family remembers that she loved to play her favorite song on the zither, “O Tannenbaum” at Christmastime. No one else in the family played the zither, and when Elizabeth passed away in 1972, her little zither, made in New York City by the Hartmann Company, was stored in her attic, where it was forgotten.
It is a cliché, but nonetheless true, that life goes on, and so with the Grobs. Elizabeth’s children marry and have children and so do their children. We now fast-forward to 2008 and move two generations. Cleaning out Elizabeth’s attic, the family finds Elizabeth’s zither, which appears to be in rather good shape after such a long time stored in an attic. Elizabeth’s great-granddaughter, Gina Gerbasio, is intrigued by this many-stringed instrument and asks her parents permission to learn how to play.
Her mom, Gail, searches the Internet and locates Dave Kyger’s excellent site about the zither. Knowing that I live in New Jersey, Dave contacts me and asks if I might be interested in teaching Gina. I am delighted, but knowing how difficult learning to play the zither is, my concern was that Gina would try for a couple of weeks and then stop. That was before I got to know this highly intelligent, phenomenally funny and absolutely determined young lady.
As we look back upon the first 9 months of lessons, Gina continues to progress. Her playing is becoming quite fluid and her confidence increases weekly. We have already performed together for one of the scouting troops in New Jersey and I believe Gina may perform as soloist next year in her school.
In any event, I would like to thank the Gerbasio (nee Grob) family, Joe and Gail, for inviting me into their home every week. It is absolutely fascinating to reflect that Elizabeth Grob’s love of the zither should find reflection in her great-granddaughter, a hundred years later. To see the progress that Gina continues to make and to hear her play is a joy beyond expression.